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Frankfurt gunman in US airmen killing kept radical company on Facebook

Arid Uka, who confessed to killing two US airmen at the Frankfurt airport Wednesday, had links with radical groups online but is believed to have acted on his own.

By Isabelle de PommereauCorrespondent / March 4, 2011

German police stand at the federal court in Karlsruhne, Germany, on Thursday, where the suspect in the slaying of two US airmen at Frankfurt airport was brought. German federal prosecutors said Wednesday's attack on a busload of US airmen that killed two and wounded two others at the Frankfurt airport appears to have been motivated by Islamic extremism.

Thomas Lohnes/dapd/AP

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Frankfurt

Arid Uka was a typical product of Frankfurt, a city where a third of the population is not originally from Germany. An ethnic Albanian born in Kosovo and raised Muslim, he grew up in a middle-class family in Germany and lived with his parents and siblings. It was only recently that he turned to radical Islam, apparently connecting with extremists on Facebook and online jihadi forums.

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On Wednesday, Mr. Uka became the first person to successfully carry out a terrorist attack in Germany since 9/11. He has been charged with killing two US airmen and wounding two others at the Frankfurt airport in an act that German prosecutors say Uka carried out on his own. In court Thursday, he confessed to the killings and said he shot the four men because he felt America was at war with Islam.

"We have a new ... perpetrator of terrorism, the lone wolf," says Bernd Georg Thamm, a security expert based in Berlin. "Terrorism experts have dreaded this for a while, and now it’s happened. And it won’t be the last case."

While Uka may have been acting alone, he appeared to be prepared for the attack when he approached a bus full of American airmen in front of the Frankfurt airport's terminal two. The Blue Bird bus carrying about a dozen members of the US Air Force pulled up just outside where Uka worked as a mail sorter at the airport postal service.

The airmen had just arrived from England, landing at Frankfurt airport, one of Europe's busiest and a major connecting point for America’s 75,000 soldiers in Europe. They were to be driven to Ramstein Air Base, which is often used as a logistical hub for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. From there, they were going to be deployed to Afghanistan.

Prosecutors say that before opening fire on the airmen, Uka yelled "Allah Akbar" ("God is greatest"), an Arabic phrase that is used to express all kinds of emotion but is often used as a jihadi battle cry. After the shooting, officials say, he dropped the gun, ran into the terminal, and was captured.

Online jihad

The Internet seemed to have provided Uka's path to radicalism. On his Facebook wall, he linked to jihadist songs, talked about "kuffar" (infidels), and railed against Americans and Jews.

Indeed, radical Islamists have found many converts through the Web and online message boards. Over the past decade, the number of extremist sites has skyrocketed, rising from about a dozen after 9/11 to thousands today, say experts. They are forums for recruitment and for dispersing Al Qaeda's violent ideology.

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